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Quicker removal of risk

11th November 2016

Walmart – the world’s largest retailer serving 260 million customer each week – is testing blockchain database technology that will allow it to monitor and rapidly respond to supply chain issues. If successful it could radically improve food safety for customers and cut costs for the retailer, which tech start-up Frequentz has already dabbled in.
Utilising the blockchain Walmart could obtain crucial data on the origin of a food product from the receipt of a customer who is unwell. Details on suppliers, how and where the food was grown and who inspected it would be made available – with the database extending the information trail from the pallet to the individual product. This means if there’s a contamination issue it can be pinpointed within hours rather than days, and addressed by pulling individual packages rather than recalling product from hundreds of stores.
“With blockchain, you can do strategic removals, and let consumers and companies have confidence,” says Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart. “We believe that enhanced traceability is good for other aspects of the food systems. We hope you could capture other important attributes that would inform decisions around food flows, and even get more efficient at it.”
The blockchain is a distributed ledger where companies doing business with each other — like growers, distributors and retailers — can record transactions securely. The database’s strength lies in its credibility: the difficulty of reversing or changing what’s been recorded. The blockchain database can also hold much more data than what retailers can currently access, providing tools for more detailed analysis.
That analytical power could help Wal-Mart deliver food to stores more efficiently, reducing wastage and cutting costs. In October Walmart trialed the blockchain, tracking two products – a packaged produce item in the US and pork in China. If testing is successful Walmart will expand the trials to multiple products and countries. If adopted to track food worldwide, Walmart would be behind the largest deployment of the blockchain database technology to date.
This technology could benefit Walmart in two ways – building trust with its customers that food risks can be quickly addressed and eliminated. At the same time the ability to more effectively track items through multiple supply chains could cut costs through optimising movements and cutting waste.